Editors’ Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
UN report warns of continuing threat from ISIL
The UN recently published its eighth report on the “threat posed by ISIL to international peace and security.” The report argues that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has “substantially evolved into a covert network in Iraq” and remains a “global organization with centralized leadership.” UN member states, the report argued, will need to take a “holistic approach” in addressing the various consequences of ISIL’s violent activities. Michele Coninsx, head of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) has stressed three key challenges for UN member states: (1) the high number of internally-displaced persons in Iraq and Syria, (2) the large number of captured ISIL fighters, and (3) ISIL’s ongoing structural transformation and “ability to exploit new technologies.”
The report comes as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fight to retake the town of Baghuz, ISIL’s “last stronghold in eastern Syria.” US-led coalition forces have provided artillery and air support, but the fighting is fierce. The SDF reportedly faces between 500 and 600 of ISIL’s most battle-hardened fighters. Addressing the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, President Trump predicted the capture of “100 percent” of ISIS’ territory by this week.
Trump abruptly announced in December the imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the pull-out as a mere “tactical change,” emphasizing that American strategic priorities in the region will remain the same. Withdrawal has proven complicated, particularly given fears that it will lead to an offensive by Turkey against Kurdish groups in Syria. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Pentagon has set an April target date for the pullout of all U.S. forces in Syria. As the UN report has demonstrated, however, ISIL will continue to pose a global challenge.
U.S., Russia draft rival resolutions on Venezuela
The United States has drafted a Security Council resolution calling on Venezuela to conduct “free, fair and credible presidential elections, with international electoral observation.” The draft reaffirmed support for the National Assembly, “the only democratically elected institution in Venezuela.” Russia has in response circulated its own draft. Referencing article 2(4) of the UN Charter, the Russian text expressed “concern over the threats to use force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Venezuela.” Neither Russia nor the United States have circulated the drafts to the Security Council.
This week, Secretary-General António Guterres renewed his offer to help broker an end to the crisis. The UN has sought to retain its impartiality. Guterres has met with Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, in New York. UN aid agencies have expanded their impartial humanitarian aid operations inside Venezuela, while at the same time noting that “less than half of the UN’s $109.5 million appeal has been met.”
Some 50 countries have recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. In an interview last week, Guaidó refused to rule out the possibility of seeking US military intervention. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has so far refused to give ground, and has blocked the inflow of U.S. humanitarian aid.
Helicopter crash kills three Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei
On Feb. 10, an Ethiopian MI-8 helicopter attached to the United Nations Interim Security Force mission in Abyei (UNISFA) crashed in the mission compound, killing three crew members. The helicopter was transporting 23 passengers from Kadugli in South Kordofan State to Abyei. South Kordofan and Abyei sit on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and have been racked by violence since 2011, when South Sudan gained its independence.
Abyei is home to a southern population group, the Ngok Dinka, but is also transited by Misseriya nomads. Khartoum in 2011 moved to keep Abyei as part of Sudan. The Sudanese Armed Forces moved into the region in May 2011, leading to a breakout of hostilities. In June 2011, the two warring parties–the Government of Sudan and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–came to an agreement in Addis Ababa. UNISFA, established by UN Security Council resolution 1990, was to monitor the complete redeployment of Sudanese and South Sudanese forces from the region. According to the Secretary-General’s October 2018 report, both Sudanese and South Sudanese armed elements have been sighted in the Abyei area in “direct violation” of the June Agreement.
The day after the helicopter crash, Secretary-General Guterres praised the work of African peacekeepers at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. African countries, he noted, “provide almost half of all UN peacekeeping troops.” Ethiopia, for example, has seconded some 4,500 blue helmets to UNISFA and is the “sole troop contributing country” to the mission.
Israel blocks a Security Council visit to Palestinian Areas
Multiple U.N. envoys said on Wednesday that Israel had refused to authorize a Security Council visit to Judea and Samaria. The council authorized its president, Equatorial Guinea’s Anatolio Ndong Mba, to consult Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour and Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon on a potential investigative trip. According to the Kuwaiti ambassador, “Israel categorically refused the visit.” The proposed UN visit comes after President Benjamin Netanyahu failed to renew the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) last month. The TIPH, an international civilian observation mission, has monitored Hebron since 1997.
Security Council welcomes new C.A.R. peace agreement
On Wednesday, Security Council President Anatolio Ndong Mba issued a press statement celebrating a new Central African Republic peace deal. The C.A.R. government and 14 armed groups signed the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in the capital of Bangui on February 6. The signing at Bangui followed an intensive peace negotiation process, held under the auspices of the African Union in Khartoum, Sudan.
The latest peace deal is the eighth since the Seleka, a rebel coalition, launched its first offensive against the central government in late 2012. In March 2013, the Seleka succeeded in capturing Bangiu and ousting then-President François Bozizé. Seleka depredations led to backlash from the anti-balaka movement, a loosely-organized coalition of self defense groups. Both groups–the Seleka and the anti-balaka–have fragmented since 2013. The Republic’s current President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, came to power in 2016 in a campaign that prioritized reconciliation and unification, but violence has continued to rack the country.
The United Nations deployed its peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, in late 2014. UN Security Council Resolution 2448, which extended the mission’s mandate in 2018, authorized MINUSCA to support and extend State authority, reform the security sector, and advance an inclusive dialogue with armed groups. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Head of the MINUSCA, reported in late 2018 that MINUSCA simply could not ensure the protection of “civilians across the entire country.”
According to the terms of the new peace deal, the signatories agree to respect the constitution, laws, and regulations of the republic. A Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission is to begin operations within ninety days. The signatories have renounced the use of arms and promised to form mixed military units that would combine central security forces with militia members. The terms are ambitious, but the deal, a result of intensive, multilateral negotiation, could represent a real chance of peace for the Central African Republic.
IMAGE: Diplomats gather for a United Nations Security Council meeting, January 25, 2019 at the United Nations in New York. (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)